Expensive ride! - Jockey training programme to begin with 100 per cent increase
Dania Bogle, Senior Gleaner Writer
AS a new cohort prepares to enter the jockeys training programme, the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) says it is trying to eliminate potential unethical practices and make it easier for applicants to fund the more than quarter-million dollar tuition.
The JRC announced in October last year that the tuition for the programme, which begins on February 9, would be $290,000, a 100 per cent increase. When the jockey school began in 1983, tuition fee was $2000. The fees had steadily increased to $145,000 in 2014.
Stakeholders, including Jockey's Guild president André Martin, raised objections to the amount.
"Over 60 percent of the jockeys do not get paid to exercise horses, and what they are earning is not enough to support their family or themselves," Martin said.
The Gleaner columnist and race horse owner, Dr Paul Wright, said the cost leaves the potential for corruption.
"The problem that I have is that this is a lot of money, and ... anybody with money would sponsor a jockey ... if you are a racing person, its suits you to sponsor a jockey who has your interest," Dr Wright said.
President of the Racehorse Trainers Association, Vin Edwards, said given the economic background of the trainees, the fees were unreasonable.
"It is wicked. It's more than university. How could you want poor people pickney to pay that kind of money," he said, while admitting that some trainees seemed oblivious to the economics.
"Some of them feel say them a go turn rich. The day when the thing (increase) came out, I raised hell, and some of the boys told me that 'my boss can pay the money'," he related.
However, general manager of the JRC, Richard Longmore, told The Gleaner that the body makes no profit from the fees and was forced to increase tuition because of a failure to attract sponsorship.
"The fees that were paid last year, a significant sum was subsidised, but for this school, we are not seeing any form of sponsorship. The fee quoted is the actual cost of the programme. There is no excess or profit which comes back to the Commission."
He added that in an attempt to eliminate corruption, the students were offered a payment plan. Half ($145,000) may be paid upfront, with the balance paid in instalments.
"We hear the cry of the stakeholders, and without making a commitment, we are best seeing how to take some of the costs.
Meanwhile, Longmore emphasised that the local jockeys' school was in demand, even outside of Jamaica.
"The Jockeys programme is the leading jockeys' school in the Caribbean."
President of the Jamaica Racehorse Owners Association, Laurence Heffes, told The Gleaner that it was incumbent on jockeys to ride with integrity.
"You must ride your horse properly at all times. In respect of making it more affordable, I certainly think that it should be more affordable in general."
Heffes also noted that one stipulation - for trainees to be at least of the Grade Nine level academically to be considered for the programme - be reconsidered.
He believes the qualification puts gifted horsemen who may struggle academically at a disadvantage.
"There may be some riders who are very, very capable in the saddle, in producing a horse to give you that much more, but they may be challenged in a learning disability," Heffes reasoned. "Some consideration may be a given to someone who has a natural gift and they are denied the ability to share that gift to Jamaica because of academic level."